Educators cite CSAP strengths, weaknesses

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— Test results released last week indicate that only 30 percent of sophomores across Colorado are proficient or advanced in math. So when 50 percent of Steamboat Springs High School sophomores scored in those top two categories, it's mixed news - scores are above the state average, but half of the sophomores did not demonstrate math proficiency.

According to Steamboat Springs School District officials, the reality is not that students aren't proficient at math, but rather that the statewide Colorado Student Assessment Program tests do not always correspond with the math that is taught in Colorado schools.

This year's CSAP results are a bellwether for school districts across Colorado, as educators recognize students' weaknesses and strengths in reading, writing, math and science. Educators say the tests are most important because they show growth from year to year, both for individual students and schools. By pulling apart the data, educators are able to learn more about their district's strengths and weaknesses. But questions about CSAP's alignment with school curriculums remain, including in Steamboat Springs.

In 2008, Steamboat students again performed very well on the CSAP tests, with scores above state averages on every test. Steamboat Springs High School received an award from the Colorado Department of Education for a three-year trend of increasing reading scores.

Those scores dipped in 2006 but have now increased for three years in a row. Results this year show 88 percent of ninth graders and 82 percent of sophomores received a "proficient" or "advanced" score.

In math, Steamboat's lower percentages of advanced or proficient results reflected those of students across the state, who overall did not score very high on CSAP math tests. In Steamboat, 65 percent of freshmen scored in the top two categories. Fifty percent of the sophomores scored that high. While those numbers are low, they are above the 38 and 30 percent, respectively, that the state averages.

High school interim Principal Kevin Taulman said that comes as no surprise on either the local or state level.

"I think it's just a matter of (how) the standards are not aligned with what's being taught in the classroom," he said. "It's been that way for years, since the inception of the test."

Scores from Steamboat Springs Middle School back up that theory. Students in the middle school scored very high on the math test, with 86, 75 and 80 percent of students proficient or advanced in sixth, seventh and eighth grade, respectively. Those match the high scores seen in the elementary school and are well above state averages.

Steamboat's curriculum, instruction and assessment director, JoAnne Hilton-Gabeler, said the math scores are definitely an area of concern, but the district already is making progress.

"Yes, the math scores in the state (and nationally) are in a slump, and there have been many suggestions for attention and improvement," she wrote in an e-mail, noting that teaching algebra as young as sixth grade is one possible solution.

"This district will be working, not only with the larger picture of K-12 math but also zooming in on the worrisome ninth- and 10th-grade math proficiency levels."

Growth for all

The district will receive more detailed results from the CSAP tests before the beginning of school, showing individual student scores and how students fared on specific questions and concepts in the tests.

Those results also will show how much growth students made. Taulman said one concern of his, and a goal during his first year as principal, is to ensure top-performing students are allowed to grow at their own pace.

"Did they gain from last year or did they level out?" he said. "What can we do to get them from advanced to a higher level of advanced?"

Taulman said he thinks the district strategy of "response to intervention," which is used nationwide to identify and quickly respond to students who are at risk, is one of the biggest reasons the school performed well this past year.

"One of the indicators of success for our school is seeing growth from every single student," he said. "Is everybody moving forward or are we just widening the gap?"

Tests such as the CSAP come with inevitable disclaimers from educators, who say results alone cannot be used to measure the health of the district.

"It's like an annual physical," Taulman said, describing how the tests measure district health at one time in the year. "But throughout the year, you time yourself running the mile to see how you're doing."

To that end, Taulman said he hopes to implement more regular assessments throughout the year so teachers can respond quickly to any gaps in education.

"The idea is to really focus and individualize instruction for the students," he said.

- To reach Zach Fridell, call 871-4208

or e-mail zfridell@steamboatpilot.com

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